Paris, April 23 (IANS) Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, who stood second in the first round of France's presidential poll, faces a tough challenge from socialist Francois Hollande as the country votes May 6 in the second round of ballotting.
Sarkozy wants three public debates with Hollande before the second round of the vote, a proposal that Hollande shot down.
"I propose that three debates be organised. The French have the right to truth and clarity," Sarkozy said Sunday, challenging Hollande.
Hollande, however, rejected the idea, saying the traditional single debate ahead of the second round was sufficient, and that it should "last as long as necessary", reported BBC.
Hollande won the first round of France's presidential poll, setting up a run-off with Sarkozy, who came second.
Sarkozy won 27.1 percent of the vote, while Hollande surged ahead with 28.6 percent, the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round since the start of the Fifth Republic in 1958.
Marine Le Pen of the National Front stood third with 18 percent votes. The second round of ballotting takes place May 6.
A weak economy and high rate of unemployment are some of the issues that have dominated these elections.
"Tonight, I become by the French vote the candidate of all the forces who want to close a page and open another. Thanks to you, tonight, change is now running, and nothing, I say nothing, will stop it," Hollande said in a speech at his headquarters in Tulle, southwest France.
"On May 6, I want a great victory worth of France of its history and its future," he told supporters.
Portraying himself as the best candidate to cruise to the Elysee Palace after Sunday's results, Hollande urged a large gathering which "should be as wide as possible" in the decisive second round, reported Xinhua.
Presidential frontrunners Sarkozy and Hollande are set to resume their duel April 27 with a series of campaign rallies. A face-to-face television debate is scheduled for May 2.
Soon after the results became clear, Sarkozy reached out to Le Pen's voters Monday, saying "there was this crisis vote that doubled from one election to another - an answer must be given to this crisis vote", reported BBC.
If Hollande is elected, he would be France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995.
France is one of the most developed countries with the fifth largest economy in the world. In 2011, its GDP reached $2.808 trillion, with an annual growth rate of 1.8 percent.
France enjoys a leading position in sectors such as nuclear power, aerospace, and railway. According to the latest data, in 2010, France's exports totalled $508.7 billion dollars, and its imports stood at $577.7 billion.
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